Undaunted by global disruption, a logistics company embraces bold transformation

| Impact Story

The cargo shipping industry has seen skyrocketing demand in the last several years and keeping up with it has strained global supply chains. ECU Worldwide is one of the largest less-than-container-load shippers in the world, with 30 years of experience, servicing close to 2,400 trade routes across 180 countries and 40,000 port pairs across the globe.

In December 2019, just before the start of the global pandemic, leadership from ECU Worldwide began working with McKinsey to chart a plan for an ambitious transformation – an 18-month program called “Voyager.”

The program would lead ECU Worldwide to a complete organizational overhaul that put in place leadership co-ordination and new technology that offered a better experience for their global workforce and customers.

As a result, ECU Worldwide saw sales growth of between 20 to 40 percent across more than 20 countries and an overall doubling of earnings from 2018 to 2021. And they achieved all of this during a period of unprecedented disruption in their industry.

The challenge

ECU Worldwide operates a 4,500-person team out of more than 300 offices across the world, including offices in India, the United States, and Europe. These locations have accelerated growth into new markets. But they have also brought new challenges to operational cohesion.

Locations were run as independent units rather than as parts of an interconnected global business. Sales teams traditionally focused on order fulfillment and issue resolution, rather than customer pipeline building; and in more mature markets, like Europe and the United States, resource utilization wasn’t optimized. Some locations were operating beyond capacity while others were being underutilized.

Founder and chairman Shashi Kiran Shetty knew ECU Worldwide needed a new growth strategy. “We believed the company could do far more in terms of market share,” says Shashi. “We needed a digital strategy that would make us future-ready and help build the company into a global leader in the logistics industry.”

The solution

As the pandemic began upending the global logistics industry, ECU Worldwide worked with McKinsey to focus their goals into a resilient, long-term growth strategy that built operational cohesion and created digital solutions to give them a competitive advantage.

“ECU Worldwide wanted a strategy that would make them future-ready and better integrate their people and operations around the world,” says McKinsey associate partner Chandan Kansal. “We helped them think through what organizational changes and digital solutions could make this happen.”

Partner Neelesh Mundra leads McKinsey’s logistics work in India and co-leads our manufacturing and supply-chain work in Asia. “More than 50 colleagues from our offices across the world, and experts from our capabilities like McKinsey Digital, Implementation, and People & Organizational Performance, helped bring the best of our firm to this transformation,” he says.

After an intensive diagnostic sprint, McKinsey and ECU Worldwide developed Voyager, a transformation plan that featured four central pillars: improving sales efficiency, transforming operations using analytics, optimizing the customer journey, and creating a future-ready organization.

How it was done

McKinsey helped the company identify more than 15 geographies across three major markets – Europe, Asia, and North America – that comprised the majority of ECU Worldwide’s overall business. The company looked closely at how sales teams in these regions worked with their customers, defined growth milestones, and conducted customer analyses to pinpoint specific country challenges and potential.

ECU Worldwide then began working to strengthen connectivity among their sales teams. McKinsey helped build a coordination center that tracks KPIs, shipment movements, and sales and pricing across geographies. Decisions in different parts of the world could now be made and communicated across the organization in real-time, rather than taking several days or weeks to coordinate as they traditionally had.

After the first 18 months, the growth strategy had been systematically put in place. It featured two major components.

Technology transformation

A big enabler of ECU Worldwide’s transformation was creating and streamlining centralized technologies that helped track what was happening across priority markets. Prior to this streamlining, data was often reported in different formats across different offices and might take several months to aggregate and review. The company worked with McKinsey to build automated management dashboards that gathered data from each market into a centralized center.

A newly revamped customer-facing digital sales dashboard, ECU360, used data science to create a customer-centric experience. By onboarding new products and vendors onto the platform, ECU360 created a digital ecosystem spanning users across more than 80 countries, the largest of its kind.

A complete organizational redesign

ECU Worldwide’s focus then shifted to performance management, which the company led out of a new dedicated transformation office. “The important aspect that we focused on was the health of the organization and institutionalization of best practices,” says Sanchita Mohanty, vice president of transformation for ECU Worldwide. “We had a detailed talent-value assessment identifying the key recruits we wanted for the organization to achieve the aspiration that we had set for ourselves.” 

The very important aspect that we focused on was the health of the organization.

Sanchita Mohanty, VP of Transformation for ECU Worldwide

The automated dashboards gave ECU Worldwide a framework for company-wide performance reviews. The company could now institute KPIs that were common across geographies and tied to the organization’s overall goals. With everyone looking at the same data, workers could see how they were a part of one global organization, working toward common objectives, rather than operating in silos. This impact was then sustained through a newly set up Data Science and Analytics Centre of Excellence.

The impact

The technology transformation created efficiencies across various areas of the business, improving ECU Worldwide’s resilience along with their visibility and control over cargo movements in the supply chain.

The customer-facing digital sales dashboard, ECU360, brought more customer insights to ECU Worldwide, resulting in a 25 percent increase in adoption and 90 percent customer retention rate. A new sales app helped increase productivity for the client workforce with more than 60 percent of bookings now done on ECU360. A yield management tool tracked value leakages and demand spikes, enabling teams to revamp sales strategies. And a redesigned sales accelerator app helped increase productivity by 150 percent.

Having brought McKinsey in as a part of the transformation has been a real partnership. They implemented the rigor needed to move the organization in the way it needed to move.

Tim Tudor, CEO of ECU Worldwide

“This transformation program, Voyager, institutionalized a new way of working within the organization,” says Adarsh Hegde, joint managing director for ECU Worldwide. “Today if you talk to anybody in our offices in China, Germany, or India, you will find the same language being spoken by them.”

While forwarders globally saw earnings growth during the pandemic due to demand bottlenecks, ECU Worldwide’s sales program was distinct in that it focused on volume growth specifically, which had been stagnant for several years. By focusing on key markets, ECU Worldwide’s transformation covered 80 percent of overall sales, resulting in sales growth of between 20 to 40 percent across more than 20 countries as well as sales growth from newly integrated less-than-container-load and trucking services in the past two years.

Operations processing time was also reduced by 30 percent thanks to a model office playbook developed and deployed across more than ten countries to streamline operations and set up an ECU Worldwide way of working. Getting this strategy right has enabled the company to start exploring its next bold moves in air freight and cross-border ecommerce.

“Bringing focus and drive was a common goal we all aspired for. We’d grown through many acquisitions and needed a common ECU way of doing business,” says Tim Tudor, CEO of ECU Worldwide. “Having brought McKinsey in as a part of the transformation has been a real partnership. They implemented the rigor needed to move the organization in the way it needed to move.”